Advice for physical and mental wellbeing

Chances are you have spent the majority of the last few months sitting. Even before the pandemic, studies showed that most people sit for an average of six hours a day. That might be at your desk….and more than likely that will not be a desk designed for purpose, but rather your kitchen island / kid’s desk / on your lap…..or it might be on the sofa, or in the car driving to the nearest supermarket……either way, being sedentary is a big part of our lives. Sitting in the same position for long periods of time does more damage than you might think. And it’s not just our physical bodies that suffer. 

Some Basic Anatomy

When you are seated, the hips are in a constant state of flexion. When muscles are maintained for long periods of time like this they become over tight and this has a knock-on effect on other parts of the body. For example, one of our main hip flexor muscles is the piriformis. When this muscle becomes too tight there is a danger of it pressing on the sciatic nerve, which if you’ve ever had sciatica you will know is extremely painful! 

Yes it’s true that when sitting in an upright and unsupported position with great posture, the core stability muscles are switched on and working well. Sounds good. But these muscles are doing all the work, leaving the legs and buttocks at content rest. This leads to muscle atrophy – ie they become weak and switch off from underuse. 

The fact is, we are designed to move and it’s not just our muscles – our vascular and nervous systems rely on us moving in order to function optimally. Sitting with poor posture leads to musculoskeletal imbalance. You will most likely have noticed yourself that even sitting for extremely short periods is very difficult without slouching. We end up with slumped shoulders and a rounded back. Not only does this put strain on your back muscles and vertebrae, it can also lead to breathing difficulties. Extreme kyphosis (a rounded upper back) reduces chest size, putting pressure on the lungs and can even lead to difficulty breathing.

So what to do? 

The best thing to do is to not sit down for long periods in the first place, but I’m not here to offer you unrealistic goals. We have jobs right? And I don’t know anybody normal who is going to install a treadmill at their desk like I’ve seen some people suggest in posts! But try this – set a timer to go off every 30 minutes to remind you to get up and do something….make a cup of tea, take something upstairs that needs putting away, walk to the shop for more milk. If you’re really trying to up your game, drop and give me 20 at this point! Anything to get those muscles out of their comfort zone. You may feel that taking so much time away from your desk, especially when you are in the middle of something, is detrimental…..BUT I HAVE SO MUCH TO DO! But you will find that you stay more focused and alert taking breaks little and often and end up being much more productive. By the way – essential oils like peppermint, eucalyptus and wild orange can also help you maintain your concentration. 

So here is where yoga comes in and you don’t need to worry about finding the time for a whole hours class to benefit. The following are five postures that you can do at your desk, and even in your chair whilst on that zoom call that seems to be taking forever! I would suggest taking your video off first – but that’s totally your call!

  1. Chair twist

Great for re-setting the spine, specially if your posture isn’t exactly perfect. Sit on a chair with the feet directly under the knees. Place your left hand on your right knee and turn to look over your right shoulder, as far as you can. Keep the hips facing forward as you twist. Repeat on the other side. 

2. Chair pigeon

This one if for that juicy piriformis on the outer edge of the hips, which gets tighter and tighter the longer you sit. Sit on a chair and cross the right foot on top of the left knee. Fold the upper body as close towards the legs as possible to stretch the outer hip. Repeat on the other side. 

3. Chair downward dog

One of my favourites and can be done against a wall too; amazing for opening out the chest and stretching the shoulders & backs of the legs. Stand behind a chair that has a back support, about 3 feet away. Fold forward from the hips until you can hold onto the top of the chair. See if you can get your back parallel to the floor. 

4. Cow faced arms

A great one if you have been typing all day or looking down at screens – this will open your chest and prevent rounded shoulders. Reach your right arm up and over so the fingertips reach down the spine. Take the left arm down and around so the fingertips point upwards. See if you can clasp the hands together and if not try using a belt. Repeat on the other side. 

5. Chair pose.

Seems counterintuitive I know, considering the name of this posture, but it’s a great one for firing up those lazy glutes and legs. Stand with the feet under the hips and bend the knees. Take the weight into the heels to activate the muscles in the butt. Reach the arms up and hold for a few deeps rounds of breath. 

Once you have finished your working day, it is important to make sure you create space for ‘home life’ outside of ‘work life’. Where once we had the commute in which to decompress, just going from the kitchen table to the sofa isn’t going to cut it in terms of ‘bringing your work home’. 

  • If your dining table is your workspace, clear everything into a drawer at the end of the day so you’re not ‘eating at your desk’ come dinner time. 
  • If your home office is also where you relax in the evenings, take a few moments to cleanse the space of ‘work’ energy. Change the lighting, do some smudging, put the computer in a drawer, light an Himalayan salt lamp. 
  • If your bedroom is also your office, make sure you set up a charging station outside the room for you to plug everything in at the end of the day, long before you want to go to sleep. At least 2 hours is recommended. 
  • Have a shower or a bath and put on different clothes. You may not be wearing a suit, but the ritual of changing out of the clothes you wore for work and into something different is a great way to pass from working headspace into relaxing headspace. 

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